In an attempt to ease parents’ and students’ worries, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki addressed the press in a video conference and outlined how staff and students will be protected from exposure to Covid-19 as the educational process continues.
Shawki said the ministry’s strategy is to reduce the density of students in the classroom while ensuring they have access to multiple learning resources which will guarantee there is no deficit in the academic content of the curriculum.
Thermal devices have been distributed to schools which will measure students’ temperatures daily, and spaces for isolation of any student showing Covid-19 symptoms have been identified. While on school premises students will also be required to wear face masks.
Grades KG1 to three will attend school more frequently than other grades because they need to communicate more with their teachers, said Deputy Minister of Education Reda Hegazi. “Students at this early stage of education learn better through direct communication and will therefore attend school three to four days a week. Schools have been given the freedom to specify the number of days depending on their ability to maintain social distancing among students.”
The Egyptian Education Platform has been created for students, teachers and parents to explain how to use the various digital platforms made available by the ministry, and includes information on the various sources of learning.
Grades four to nine will attend school for three days a week, and when not in the classroom will attend classes online. The ministry has created three educational TV channels for students who do not have Internet access at home to ensure they do not miss any parts of the curriculum, said Hegazi.
The educational channels are called Our School and began programming on 18 October. The schedule will be broadcast on the Egyptian Education Platform.
Grade 10 to 12 students will attend school for two days. They will each receive a tablet during the first week of study, which they will use to access a host of learning resources.
“Tablets have already been distributed to all students except in Sinai and Aswan, and they should expect to receive their tablets very soon,” said Shawki. “Grades 10 to 12 will receive their lessons via the platform http://lms.ekb.eg/.”
Material is uploaded in Arabic and English, and within days will be uploaded in French. The platform is constantly updated, and includes all school set texts.
Ministry of Education Spokesperson Mahmoud Hassouna says an electronic centre has been set up to receive queries and complaints via WhatsApp and will operate daily from 9am to 5pm on 01148970610. Ministry of Education officials will follow the process closely, and be available to interact and try to solve any complaints received from parents, students or teachers.
The ministry has agreed a unified e-mail with Microsoft so students at all educational stages can access the ministry’s educational platforms, and Microsoft office programmes will be provided free of charge.
Hassouna added that within a matter of days the ministry will open an e-library at http://study.ekb.eg, containing the edmodo.org platform, ask the teacher programme, and interactive e-books.
Despite measures to protect students against the danger of being infected with Covid-19, and to ensure the academic year runs smoothly, many parents and students remain concerned.
Fadia Zaki, a housewife and mother of two school age children, says that while the ministry’s plans sound great in theory, the real test will be how they work on the ground.
“The pros and cons remain unclear. School has just started and though we have been informed of the plans and provided with some instructions we need to try it and see how it functions,” she said.
“I just hope it runs better than last year when schools were totally unprepared for online learning and I fear my children did not benefit much.”
Mariam Hassan, a mother of one pupil, feels that “if the ministry’s plan is strictly applied there will be no need to worry.
“The important thing is that students, schools and teachers all abide by the plan.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly